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History of Saltese area has a flow

Thu., July 12, 2007

In Saltese, water has always been the catalyst for change.

The land south of Greenacres is what it is today because Peter Morrison, a rancher and hay farmer, cut deep ditches into a shallow water body known as Saltese Lake in 1892. The subsequent drainage exposed a peat bog of several thousand acres, which Morrison transformed into one of the most viable hay operations in the region.

That drainage, which took years of gouging miles of deep channel through the mud with nothing more than horses and a drag-behind shovel, made the area what it is. Thousands of acres of grass hay and crops carpet the pool-shaped Saltese basin. Penned buffalo graze on pasture land at the back of the lake where runoff from the northern slopes of Mica Peak once pooled several feet deep. Farmers on the lake’s east end grow an array of herbs and flowers. And Morrison’s grandson, Bud, still tends a hay crop on about 650 acres of lake bottom.

But the effects of the drainage more than a century ago stretch beyond the meadow. The deep channel dug by Peter Morrison to send lake water west now runs through the center of a subdivision with a couple of thousand residents, known as Turtle Creek. The subdivision’s name refers to Morrison’s ditch, which not only channels water though the subdivision near the corner of Eighth Avenue and Barker Road, but also sends water toward Shelley Lake, which isn’t dependant on the ditch for water but has tapped it to stay full in years past. The lake is the centerpiece of a gated community.

The Saltese area is changing again. Houses are beginning to crop up where hay once grew. And again water is playing a major role, in the form of a 12-inch pipe running from a water tower in Morningside to the western edge of Morrison’s ranch. Bud Morrison paid to have the land extended to his property a few years ago, in anticipation of a 40-plus home subdivision that now flanks the east edge of Barker Road.

The development is called Saltese Meadows. There’s a lot reserved for a church right beside the development and construction is expected to start next month. After that, change will slow. Because the rest of the Morrison property is outside Spokane County’s urban growth boundary, it is off limits to housing development.

But west of Saltese Meadows, houses are coming, and Bud Morrison is sure his grass hay won’t grow on a busy street once urban-style living arrives at his field’s edge. That 12-inch pipe he laid to Saltese Meadows carries enough water for 500 homes. When the time is right, a crop of houses will replace the hay that’s grown on Morrison’s place for more than a century.

“You know its getting nearer every year,” Morrison said. “Once we get within the urban growth boundary, when that happens … things will change.”

Saltese is a different place now than it was even 50 years ago for the Morrisons and the other pioneer families that settled the area. Morrison, 66, remembers as a child watching Coeur d’Alene Indians camp in his father’s bull pasture. The Indians were just passing through. Morrison’s family had been seasonal neighbors with the Coeur d’Alenes since the 1890s.

The region gets its name from Chief Saltese, the Coeur d’Alene’s tribal leader until his death in 1902. At the dawn of the 20th century, there was a cabin at the southeast corner of the lake that belonged to Quinnamose, a sub-chief of the Coeur d’Alenes who’d been a fixture in the Saltese and Liberty Lake areas.

After Morrison’s grandfather drained Saltese Lake, squatters moved in and tried to claim roughly 100 acres of the drained meadow. They asserted that because the lake bottom had never been surveyed as real estate, that it could be claimed by anyone under U.S. homestead law. Peter Morrison fought the squatters for 12 years, finally prevailing after the case went twice before the U.S. Supreme Court. He was dead by the time the ruling was finally handed down in his favor, Bud Morrison said.

During the Great Depression, the land fell into receivership. Bud Morrison’s father and his father’s siblings eventually had to borrow money to get the property back.

A lot of Saltese area land went into receivership during that time. The exception was the Linke Ranch. Kim Linke’s ancestors arrived in the Saltese area in the 1870s. There were property owners who reportedly bought their land from the Indians in the area. Linke’s ancestors filed a homestead claim on their Saltese area ranch in about 1873, she said. Linke and her children still live on the property today. Linke’s children are the sixth generation to work the land.

“I don’t know why exactly they came here,” said Linke, who’s also a descendant of Frederick Post, the founder of Post Falls. “They actually homesteaded the land. At one time they had about 3,000 acres. They had a Linke strain of wheat and they had cattle, Herefords.”

Linke too remembers a much different Saltese than the one that exists now. As a child, she attended Lone Fir School, a one-room schoolhouse that now belongs to the Spokane Valley Heritage Museum. Her mother and grandfather attended the same school, which started out as a wood-heated building with no indoor plumbing. The school was built in 1895.

Like Morrison, Linke stayed on the land her family homesteaded in Saltese because of a strong personal relationship with it. She grew up driving grain trucks with her grandfather and working with livestock. The family ranch has grown smaller over time, but still consists of about 700 acres, which Linke says her family will hold onto.

She marvels at the changes around her. Hundreds if not thousands of more neighbors yet socially, the distance between the people living in Saltese seems farther than it’s ever been.

People don’t interact like they did when the community had a Grand Hall with more than 100 members and the Linkes kept a building on their property just for community dances. The change that has come in the last few decades has washed around those historical icons. It has flowed through the area like water.


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